WATCHING a Samuel Beckett play is like indulging in a spot of wild swimming in the depths of winter. Masochistically enjoyable. Viewing two Beckett plays one after another is like being plunged into an ice bath not once but twice. Rather daunting but with the benefit of hindsight a cathartic experience.
Talented director John Patterson (artistic director of Angel Theatre Company) has gone for the ice bath approach with a double bill at the Jack Brockley Theatre in London’s Lewisham: Play and Footfalls.
Short plays never paired together before but they complement each other perfectly. The rapid staccato text of Play. The slow legato approach of Footfalls. Quite a mix. Chalk and cheese, spaghetti and a bolognese sauce. It all works rather well and I am sure Beckett would approve.
Visually, it is stunning with the audience immediately confronted by three individuals immersed in separate urns (Play) sitting in near darkness. Their faces are covered in dust and ash, suggesting they are dead. In the background can be heard garbled voices, the Lord’s Prayer in Dutch. All rather disturbing and chilling.
The three – Woman 1 (Rose Trustman), Woman 2 (Samantha Kamras) and Man (Ricky Zalman) – then proceed to speak with all the light shone on the person who is spouting forth. Occasionally, all three talk at the same time, their faces lighting up simultaneously. Clever times three.
Speeches are delivered in rapid fire bursts, but with sudden and unexplained pauses – and some hyena like laughing. A mistress, a wife and her cheating husband. Disjointed. Perturbing. But in a peculiar kind of way quite captivating.
Similarly, in Footfalls, light is effectively used to highlight May (Anna Bonnett) as she shuffles her nine steps one way – then nine the other way on a wooden board – while her mother (Pearl Marsland) stands in the shadows, only her face highlighted (it is as if her body is not there).
How the plays should be interpreted is anyone’s guess but that is the point of Beckett. As Patterson said afterwards: ‘You need to allow Beckett to wash over you like a wave and see what’s left on the beach.’ Quite a lot.
It’s not easy to follow (Beckett wouldn’t want it any other way) but it is immersive thought- provoking theatre, superbly directed by Patterson and well acted by a vibrant cast.
Bonnett’s May (Amy at one stage) is mesmerising as is the subtle use of light throughout (designed by Patterson and Karl Swinyard – following Beckett’s strict instructions – and operated by Francesca Coleman).
All in all, a triumphant double dive into the absurdist world of Beckett, thirty years after his death. Be brave and take a dip. It runs until March 9.